September 30, 2013

A Tattoo Tribute

I recently wrote about my absolutely bad ass skateboard deck, which was hand painted by Craig Driscoll. That post can be found here. Dealing with Craig got me thinking about a tribute tattoo in honor of my dad. I had the concept and design elements in mind for a long while, but never pulled the trigger or felt that the timing was right. Perhaps the skateboard artwork got me motivated or something, but whatever the case . . . I asked Craig to do the tattoo.

My dad was a draftsman: he worked by hand back in the day and then was forced by the powers that be to transition into CAD. I have very fond memories of going to work with Dad when I was a wee lad and he was still drafting the old school way, with mechanical pencils, triangles, a compass, templates, etc. It was always fun to play with his gigantic Bruning electric rotary eraser; I would draw random pencil marks just so that I could take the Bruning for a spin. That electric eraser became the central design element of my tattoo. I provided some reference photos and Craig started sketching.

I threw out some other "drafting" themed items for Craig to consider, such as mechanical pencils, triangles, a T-square, French curves, etc. Craig decided to keep it simple, so he merely incorporated a couple of French curves into the banner and background design. I also asked Craig to include an orange and/or some orange blossoms into the design; Dad was very proud of his two orange trees that produced the sweetest fruit year after year. He nurtured those trees for as long as I can remember, and they are still standing and bearing fruit to this day. So, yeah, I really wanted the design to include the orange stuff.

Watching Craig complete the sketch was a treat. I wish I could draw like that. Anyway, the completed sketch (shown in the above picture) was used to create the stencil, which in turn was applied to my lower leg. About 90 minutes later, the black line work was completed and we called it a day.

It's a little difficult to read and interpret the black outlines in the absence of any color and shading. If you look closely, there are two French curves lurking in the design, along with an orange slice at the bottom, and a few orange blossoms here and there. The above picture was taken after the tattoo had healed for about a month. The color and shading have since been completed, but the skin is far from healed at the moment. I'll publish another post to show off the finished product as soon as I can!

September 23, 2013

Green Tea From Japan: Acquired!

It's about 3:00 PM as I write this on a Monday afternoon. I usually drink one or two cups of coffee early in the morning, and Japanese green tea in the afternoon. I'm actually drinking a cup of sencha right now.

I recently received a nice little package from the Japanese tea company known as Hibiki-An. I bought a can of their matcha premium and a bag of their sencha fukamushi premium (shown below).

I've always liked Japanese tea, but never really paid too much attention to it. A few years ago, however, my attitude shifted in the following manner. First, I grew tired of the "fake" green tea bags that you find in variety packs of Tazo, Bigelow, Stash, and other brands of tea. This led me to check out the tea section in my local Japanese market. Wow, so many brands and types to choose from; I eventually decided to try some "real" green tea bags. I somewhat randomly decided to pick up a box of Den's Tea genmaicha tea bags.

Long story short, those tea bags were great. This led me to the Den's Tea website, which in turn introduced me to the deep dark world of Japanese green tea, the different types, the different tea-growing regions, how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed, blah blah blah. Moreover, I learned that it's important to brew Japanese green tea properly, i.e., with the right amount of tea, the appropriate volume of water (at the correct temperature), etc. Of course, this led to the acquisition of tea-brewing items . . .

I keep all of this gear (I prefer to call it "gear" or "equipment" rather than "teaware") in my office and at the ready for my afternoon green tea sessions. Going clockwise and starting at the 12:00 position: an awesome handmade tea cup by the Japanese artist Yamane Seigan; digital scale by Jennings; tea scoop; Tokoname kyusu (i.e., teapot); tea canister. Not shown are my electric water kettle (with digital temperature readout, thank you very much) and my digital timer device, which I don't really use anymore - I use the very cool online Timer instead. I freely acknowledge that in the real world most of this stuff is optional. That said, it's super important to control the water temperature and tea-to-water ratio, so I consider the scale and kettle to be key components here. I also consider the kyusu to be mandatory for the sake of tradition and to allow easy pouring and straining; it has a built-in ceramic strainer. I guess the canister is important, too. It's best to keep the tea in an airtight container to prevent oxidation. The teacup is totally optional, but it sure looks awesome.

Back to my recent haul . . . "fukamushi" means that the tea is steamed for a longer period of time, relative to standard sencha. This results in smaller pieces of tea, which in turn results in a different flavor profile (a little bolder and stronger, and usually less bitter than regular sencha). Here are two pictures for comparison. On the left is some standard sencha (from the Ippodo tea company). My new Hibiki-An Sencha Fukamushi Premium is on the right.

The differences in color, texture, and particle size are easy to see in these closeup pictures. I still have a little bit of the regular sencha in one of my airtight hermetically sealed canisters, but I'll be breaking out the fukamushi next.

September 12, 2013

Pen Display Case

Anyone remember that George Carlin skit about finding a place for your stuff? "That's the whole meaning of life, isn't it? Trying to find a place for your stuff." He was talking about houses in that skit. Never mind that; I'm talking about a place for my fountain pens.

I had been keeping my stuff (including a few pens) in my little valet tray. That worked well until my pen collection started to grow to the point where I needed a better storage solution. I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a 250-pen case made of African Blackwood, and I didn't want to make a DIY case out of an old cigar box. So . . . I acquired an affordable and practical item: a 6-pen display case by Royce Leather.

The case is good for what it is. The fit and finish are a little suspect, but the black leather matches my valet tray and the viewing window is made of glass rather than plastic or plexiglass. The pullout drawer and the tray insert are a little flimsy, and the drawer is not supported very well. For example, it's very easy to pull the entire drawer out of its opening (there are no features designed to prevent that from happening). As another example, the drawer tilts downward when it's pulled out too far. That said, the case is very reasonably priced, and the workmanship and quality is on par for the price point. So there.

Royce Leather also makes a larger 12-pen display case; I intentionally obtained the small 6-pen size in a feeble attempt to limit my pen purchases. The following pictures show the case loaded with six writing instruments: Pilot 78G; Sailor Pro Gear; Pilot Custom Heritage 91; Lamy Vista; Baoer 388; and Pelikan M205.

Nit Pick Alert!

I've noticed that the pens tend to slip and slide within the tray slots whenever the drawer is pulled in or out. Oh well, that's inherent in the design and it cannot be helped. Maybe that's why many display cases have hinged lids. Another minor annoyance is that large diameter pens may not fit inside this case. For example, my son's Dragon Pen doesn't fit unless I carefully position it and consult my Expert Dexterity manual before attempting to slide the drawer in.

Do Not Enter
Don't let my nit picky criticisms influence your opinion of the Royce Leather display case too much. I like the case and feel that my money was well spent. I've found a good place for my stuff fountain pens.

September 2, 2013

New Phone = EDC Nightmare!

I consider myself to be a person who likes to keep up with new technology, gadgets, and electronic equipment. That said, I had been using an ancient Motorola flip phone for ages because it worked great, it held a charge for a week, and I rarely NEEDED anything other than basic voice service and basic text messaging. Don't misunderstand, I had always WANTED a modern smartphone, but I hated (and still hate) the pricing schemes that are forced down customers' throats.

Anyway, for a number of reasons I finally had to upgrade. I chose the Droid Mini by Motorola, and I'm happy with the decision even though I have nothing as a baseline for comparison. Here's a picture of the phone:

Droid Mini
Even though this phone is relatively compact (about the same size as the ubiquitous iPhone), it has created an issue for my usual EDC scheme. My typical EDC loadout includes: wallet; phone; keys; knife; flashlight; compact pen; and pocket notebook. I had a good, dependable, and well-thought pocket assignment back in the good old pre-smartphone days. Wallet in one back pocket, notebook in the other back pocket, keys in a front pocket or hanging from a belt loop, knife in the right front pocket (tip-up carry of course; tip-down is for losers), flashlight in the left front pocket, and the pen in the coin pocket (or wherever if I'm not wearing jeans). This worked well for me, regardless of the size of the knife (within reason) carried, regardless of the size of the flashlight (again, within reason) carried, and regardless of the particular pair of pants/shorts worn that day.

That leaves the phone. When life was simple and phones were tiny, I carried my phone in a belt holster. Dork accessory? Useful and convenient? Geek flair? Yes; all of the above. My belt-carried phone meant that it was always at the ready, quick to access and deploy, and easy to hear. Plus, I mastered the one-handed action of unholstering, flipping, and answering the phone. Seriously - ring to talk within milliseconds.

The Droid Mini is small, but nobody in their right mind would hang it from their belt. I don't use a man purse and I rarely use a briefcase or messenger bag. Consequently, I had to rethink my tried and true EDC scheme to accommodate my new phone.

Everyday Confusion
Take a look at the above picture. It doesn't look like much, but it is. The main issue is that I really want the phone to have its own pocket that will usually be void of keys, coins, and other objects that could damage or scratch the screen. Moreover, I don't like keeping it in my back pocket because I don't want to lose it or sit on it and break it. I could probably keep it in my left front pocket along with the pen or a small flashlight, but there's no way I'd be able to pocket both the phone and a larger flashlight or knife.

Now I'm thinking about ditching the pen and the notebook altogether. I don't use them that often, and the phone can be used in an emergency to dictate or write down important notes (e.g., "buy new flashlight" or "research blue-gray fountain pen ink"). That would definitely lighten and simplify my EDC load. I could streamline things down to the bare essentials: wallet + phone + keys + knife + light = no fun. As an alternative, I could stop carrying my "large" lights and knives and limit myself to AAA lights and blades that are less than 2.5 inches long. As an extreme measure, I could drop the flashlight from my EDC set and rely on an Android flashlight app instead. I don't think they have a Spyderco knife app, so I'll keep carrying mine, thank you very much.

You know, as of this writing I'm still within the 30-day return period of the Droid Mini. It's not too late to make a U-turn and re-holster my flip phone.